PMP375: She Leads with Dr. Rachael George and Dr. Jen Schwanke

A few quick words from Will Parker: Hi, Friends! You’re going to be listening to an interview hosted by Jen Schwanke with our guest, Rachel George, the author of the book, She Leads: The Woman’s Guide to a Career in Educational Leadership, co-authored with Majalise Tolan. You’re going to love this conversation about Rachel’s background in firefighting as well as your powerful feedback on how to manage the stress of leadership. She and Jen also talk about the unique challenges of women in leadership.

This episode will be coming out during the holiday season, so I want to also wish you all the best as you celebrate with family and friends as you step into the New Year. 2023 has been an unbelievable year for the Principal Matters community. The podcast now boasts more than 1.3 million downloads. This year hundreds of leaders have participated in virtual Principal Matters Grow Academies, Mastermind offerings, and executive coaching, and I’ve been able to connect with hundreds more through in-person conferences and professional development. Next week, we will share a Year in Review episode with some thoughts on your own goal setting. As you look at next year, if you’re interested in growing together through any of our offerings, please reach out at or go to the website at and click on the services link.

A big thank you to Dr. Jen Schwanke for hosting this week’s episode, and thank you again for doing what matters! – WP

She Leads with Rachael George and Jen Schwanke

This week Jen Schwanke hosts an interview with Rachel George, a former firefighter turned education leader! From fighting wildland fires with the U.S. Forest Service to putting out fires in the classroom, education was the last place that Rachael thought she’d end up. It wasn’t until a hard conversation with a base manager in Grangeville, Idaho did Rachael realize she needed to put her chainsaw down and make a bigger impact on the world. Rachael is a member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2015 and currently serves as the Executive Director of Elementary Programs and pre-k principal in the Oregon Trail School District. 

She is the past principal of Sandy Grade School and during her seven years there, they moved from being one of the lowest-ranked elementary schools in the state of Oregon to performing in the top 20% of elementary schools. Sandy Grade School has been recognized by the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) as a Model School for closing the achievement gap. Prior to serving as an elementary principal, she was a middle school principal of an “outstanding” and two-time “Level 5: Model School” as recognized by the State of Oregon. Rachael specializes in curriculum development, and instructional improvement as well as working with at-risk students and closing the achievement gap. 

Listen to the entire episode for great takeaways. Here is a summary of the conversation:

Talking to Dr. Rachael George is like talking to a type of Principal Whisperer. In this episode, Rachael explains how her journey has turned her into a woman who believes in children, leadership, education, and instruction— but also someone who believes in taking care of herself and the people she loves. Years ago, before becoming an educator, she worked for the U.S. Forest Service fighting wildfires. She stepped away from that job because she knew she wanted to make a big impact on the world. She can identify several similarities between forest work and school leadership, one of which is the need to figure out how to overcome the barriers placed before her. 

What is the best way to lead a school and manage those barriers? Dr. George and Jen talk about the importance of empowering others rather than doing their work for them or taking the burden away from them. This approach is enhanced by the additional layer of being a female in leadership. This is a topic Rachael has thought a lot about, even pairing up with Majalise Tolan to co-author a book, She Leads: The Woman’s Guide to a Career in Educational Leadership.

The book captures the voices of women of many different backgrounds and experiences, coming away with a primary lesson:  We are not alone. There are hidden power structures of which we should be aware, and some of the unique gifts women have to make them especially attuned to successful leadership, but we must practice self-awareness and self-care in order to be at our very best. These concepts are also addressed in Rachael’s other book, titled Principaled: Navigating the Leadership Learning Curve, which she co-authored with Kate Barker and Kourtney Ferrua.

Rachael is connected to her own learning, and in this episode, she shares several authors and resources she uses to keep learning and growing. She recognizes that principals face significant and increasing challenges, but has a few tricks up her sleeve to make it manageable and keep perspective. Her path has been meandering and she has faced significant challenges, but she has worked hard to hang on to her joy, her positivity, and her mind to continue leading. 

You can connect with Rachael via email here:

Thank you for learning together this week, and for doing what matters!

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker